Century II celebrates 50th birthday, faces uncertain future

WICHITA, Kan. An icon of Kansas' biggest city shares a birthday with the state it calls home. Tuesday, as Kansas turns 158, Century II celebrates its 50th birthday as a focal point in the heart of downtown Wichita.

For almost one year, the Century II Citizens Advisory Committee has been working toward guiding the city to a final decision on Century II and its place in downtown Wichita. The burning question for the county and City of Wichita to consider: Should the once state-of-the-art facility be remodeled or rebuilt?

Both options come with a steep price tag, possibly exceeding $200 million. While opinions about Century II may vary, there's a general consensus that something needs done.

On a tour of the historic venue Jan. 10, it took our Eyewitness News crew almost two hours to walk through the facility. Parts of the building are inaccessible, including areas on the roof where there's asbestos, leaks and duct tape holding certain pieces together.

The layout inside the building is also outdated. In most ways, Century II lags behind more modern facilities in the region, but for many, it holds an historic charm that should be preserved.

On its 50th birthday Tuesday, Wichita residents were invited to attend a celebration for Century II, learn about the history of the city's performing art and convention center and discuss its future.

The citizens advisory committee is hosting the celebratory event while seeking feedback as part of a public engagement initiative. This initiative includes giving those in attendance a first look at some of the options for Century II and a chance to share their ideas.

“This is an exciting time for Wichita,” said Century II Citizen Committee chairwoman Mary Beth Jarvis. “We are at a crossroads and it’s a perfect time to evaluate how we wish to grow and plot our path for the next 50 years. A vital and vibrant community includes performing arts and convention spaces and it’s up to us to determine what that will be. This reception is the first step to planning that path.”

The Century II birthday celebration, held from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday is free to the public and includes birthday cake and chances to win prizes.